Category Archives: Reviews

Thank You Leonard Nimoy and Spock

February 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of “The English Invasion”, when The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arrived in the USA for televised concerts.  The images of hundreds of screaming Beatles fans from their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show are part of music history burned into people’s minds.  As I watched them, something has always puzzled me: Why were the girls all screaming?  The answer to that question came to me as a result of watching Star Trek.

The show was scheduled against the hit show “Bewitched”, and it was not an immediate hit; at least not with me.  However, after watching a few episodes, I found myself (pardon the expression) fascinated with the alien character, Mr. Spock, as played by Leonard Nimoy.  Tall and thin, with shining dark hair, deeply set dark eyes, pointed ears and steeply slanted eyebrows, and yellow complexion, he was not as universally handsome as William Shatner’s Captain Kirk.

Mr. Spock

As the super intelligent ship’s First Officer (second in rank only to the captain),Spock was supposedly a member of a race called Vulcans, who considered it rude to show emotions in public, and avoided violence whenever possible.  The lack of emotion meant that his facial expressions changed little no matter how difficult the situation, and could have rendered Spock a boring, uninteresting person.  However, due to clever scripting and Leonard’s performance, you became aware that there was a gentle, decent, caring person, with a dry sense of human hidden  underneath Spock’s facade.  Suddenly women everywhere fell in love with him.  I’m sure poor William Shatner was puzzled by women’s reactions to Spock, since his Kirk was handsome, dynamic, dramatic, dripping with charisma and charm; in fact everything that Spock was not. I have no clear explanation to give him, except perhaps that Spock had an sense if vulnerability due to being often misunderstood, that Kirk lacked.  Together Kirk and Spock’s personalities and abilities balanced each other.

Even after the demise of the TV show, i continued my passion for Spock, reading fan-written fiction called Fanzines, where people wrote original stories using the characters. When they began holding Star Trek conventions, I went to them to buy more fanzines–but also in the hope of at some point, meeting Leonard Nimoy.  Over the course of 25 years, I met nearly every cast member–and even spoke to a few of them, but Leonard wasn’t big on attending conventions.

Finally, while I was living in Philadelphia, I discovered Leonard WAS COMING TO NYC, as a guest speaker with Mark Leonard, Jane Wyatt, and Julie Newmar  to promote Star Trek IV.  My friend at the time drove me into the city, and the two of us were among over 1500 wildly excited people who crammed  themselves into the main ballroom at the Penta Hotel to wait for Leonard to speak.  I was standing 15 feet from the potium when LEONARD NIMOY walked past me and onto the stage.  For 10 minutes the room was filled with non-stop screaming, and constant photo flashes.  My mind blanked out, and all I  could do was stand there staring at him, as I clapped wildly and smiled so hard my face hurt, hoping he would look directly at me.  He was (unusual for him)smiling, and basking in the love you could all but see in the room, giving the Vulcan salute with one hand.  When the screaming finally stopped, and he began speaking, I walked up to the balcony to join my friends, complete dazzled, and blinded with joy.  My friends told me I didn’t say anything, just sat down smiling and they weren’t sure I was breathing.  But I wanted to jump up and down, throw things or just run around the room, yelling my head off.  I was so happy that If I’d  been made of glass, I just would have shattered from the inside, exploding into a million pieces.

Now I get it.  The girls at the Ed Sullivan show felt like I did, and not being the mature, worldly creatures that we are today, they did the most reasonable thing– they just gave vent to their joy in uninhibited screaming.  I should have too!   Many years have passed since then, and Leonard has done a huge body of work on other projects.  I still get a twinge of the joy from that afternoon in NYC when I see him on TV, although of course with age he looks different.

One of the wonderful things about living in our current age is that we no longer have to  imagine what the performances of people in the arts were like, based on someone’s ‘s review.  With film and TV, we can see and hear for ourselves how what our actors and singers sounded.   I can hear  people out there thinking, “well, he’s no Barrymore”, and its true.  But Star Trek and Leonard added something to TV that has seldom been equaled–the reason that 40 years after the first episode, they are still making new Star Trek features.

There have been only a few occasions in my life that I’ve felt the kind of joy I did that afternoon in New York City, and all I can say is: Thank You Leonard for giving me that experience.

Live Long and Prosper!!

leonard

Motown the Musical: A Non-Professional Review

Motown the Musical Originals - 40 Classic Songs That Inspired the Broadway Show!

I just came home after seeing a preview of the Broadway show,  the Motown the Musical, about the life and music of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. There have been reviews posted on Facebook and elsewhere, both pro and con for this show. One of the complaints was that the plot is very thin. After seeing the show for myself, I am strongly compelled to debate this complaint.

Motown is the story of a man, his ideas, his ideals and the staggering number of performing artists he worked with during his years building the Motown legacy.

As is the case with many such people, Berry Gordon is driven to succeed as a promoter, and the personal connection between him and his artists–including his wife, Diana Ross–crumbled as he became more successful. The comparatively little dialogue gives you some idea of  the hardships, compromises, betrayals and sacrifices  involved in making a small private black-owned and run record label into a international mega-hit producing operation. Berry’s thoughts are often told through a song instead of preaching through monologues. I don’t find this disturbing. The music was and is the most important part of his story, and the composer and librettist of this show wisely decided to let the music speak for itself.

For many people who loved Motown, the music was a background to their lives, and drove them as they danced on the floor. As the show progresses, you are struck by the incredible number of singers and musical groups that were part of a little record label started in a house called Hitsville, U.S.A. on a street in Detroit.  It was a shock to realize that Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Mary Wells, Diana Ross, the Supremes, Rick James, and Marvin Gaye were just a few of the artists who were part of Motown.

Motown tries to include as many of the best songs of all the artists who sang the label, but it is an impossible task unless you make the show last for several days. I can’t even imagine the number of hours that must have been spent deciding which songs to skip, and which to include. I’m glad it wasn’t up to me. The songs they ultimately chose all moved the story forward and often punctuated the drama.  The words of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” are so relevant to today’s world that they could have been written yesterday.  Check out some of his tracks on YouTube: http://youtube/Dzs1K3caXJk

The performances were all so amazing–with people serving multiple roles that there were too many great moments. However I have to say because of the incredibly sharp and snappy choreography, all the male singing group numbers in particular were spectacular. The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and young Jackson 5 in particular danced their hearts out (and the short tribute to Rick James was hilarious). Seeing this music performed live with the choreography is a totally different experience from watching it live, or listening to a CD. The sheer energy of the performers as they do the routines, combined with hearing the music as it was meant to be heard–live-makes this a hair-raising experience. Brandon Victor Dixon, Charl Brown, Valisia LeKae, and Bryan Terrel Clark were utterly believable as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson,Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye, clearly reflecting the changes in their attitudes and styles as the years passed.

The costumes were fabulous–and in particular the gowns for The Supremes and the mature Diana Ross we re jaw-dropping.

Motown the Musical is a show seriously worth seeing. I dare you to get through the entire musical without singing along on at least one song–and wishing you could get up and dance.

My only disappointment of the evening was that I couldn’t just walk out of the theater and buy some of the Motown recordings at the nearby Colony Music or Virgin records. They, too are gone. Too bad….